Congestive heart failure

The heart care team at HSHS St. John's is here to help you better understand congestive heart failure and your treatment plan

A senior man checking his fitness watch on a walk outdoores

A stiff (inflexible) or weakened heart pumps blood less efficiently. Fluid may back up in the lungs, causing shortness of breath. The brain may receive less oxygen-rich blood, causing dizziness or confusion. The kidneys may receive less blood, causing them to work less efficiently. All this fluid might settle in the legs, ankles, feet and abdomen. This congestion and build up of fluid is what gives congestive heart failure (CHF) its name.

Managing your congestive heart failure

Take medications exactly as prescribed by your doctor at the same time every day. This is very important. Know the drugs you take, how they work, possible side effects, how to take them and possible drug interactions. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist can provide more information.
Diet changes usually include restricting sodium (salt) to 1,500 - 2,000 mg daily to reduce water retention. Avoid the salt shaker by using salt-free spice alternatives. Salt is hidden in most foods, so read food labels carefully. Avoiding salt will greatly affect how you feel and might even help you avoid another admission into the hospital.
Because CHF causes fluid retention, you may have to limit how much liquid you drink. Be sure to talk with your doctor to find out what is right for you.
A little activity every day may help you feel better, but be careful not to get worn out. Put your feet up during the day to reduce ankle swelling and get plenty of sleep. Before you leave the hospital, you may get a visit from a cardiac rehab nurse who will talk about this in more detail.
Weigh yourself every day, preferably first thing in the morning. A quick or large weight gain may indicate you are retaining fluid. If you gain two pounds in one day, or three to five pounds in one week, call your doctor.